Ryan: How did Kevin Harvick get beat at Pocono? A lack of willing followers

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You never will beat the fastest car in a race by following it.

That seven crew chiefs adhered to that axiom – after many inexplicably resisted its truth in earlier races this season at Richmond and Michigan – is the primary reason Kevin Harvick wasn’t in victory lane last Sunday despite having the fastest car at Pocono Raceway.

Ostensibly, the tipping point was a collision in the pits with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola, necessitating an extra stop that dropped Harvick to 30th on a restart with 40 laps remaining.

But Harvick already had spent 16 laps battling through traffic to reach fifth before the incident and was facing longer odds of earning his seventh win of 2018.

How did this happen to the driver of a dominant No. 4 Ford that started 28th but was in the top 10 within the first nine laps and seemed to be dictating the race in its second stage?

It was a cascading chain of events that began simply enough with a rejection of the groupthink that too often rules the course of a NASCAR race.

With Harvick cruising toward a Stage 2 win and the pits about to close, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez peeled off the track.

They sacrificed stage points for improved position to begin the race’s final stint because there was no other way of getting around Harvick.

When he and the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted after the second stage ended, those six cars fell in behind leader William Byron, who also didn’t stop after pitting 13 laps earlier.

Harvick, who led 30 of the first 101 laps, never led again while Busch, Suarez and Jones would finish 1-2-3.

“It definitely changed the course of the race,” said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch.

Losing a spot in the pits would prove costly for Harvick, who restarted ninth – on the inside lane that had been demonstrably worse. He lost four spots on the Lap 105 green flag. He had gained eight back when the yellow flew on Lap 122 but still trailed the leader by 5 seconds and would have had difficulty getting to the front if it had stayed green.

That largely is because there were enough crew chiefs individually willing to take the chance that it might put them at the front while burying Harvick in traffic. Though the six cars pitting on Lap 97 were all Toyotas, Stevens said their decisions weren’t coordinated.

It’s an encouraging sign if you like your races sprinkled with the plot twists that only result from tactical gambits and crew chiefs who possess the agency to make them.

Maybe there have been lessons learned from Richmond, where 15 teams dutifully followed eventual winner Kyle Busch into the pits with nine laps remaining. Or from Michigan, where Clint Bowyer’s team was alone in choosing two tires despite a vast line of dark rain clouds threatening to make the next restart the last.

Perhaps if there had been as many crew chiefs who embraced risks at Pocono, there would have been different outcomes in both races.

And with the regular season growing late, perhaps there will be more.

The opportunities will become only more enticing and not just because of playoff positions at stake.

Driven by the confluence of downward trends in sponsorship and increasing fidelity in the highly engineered simulation programs used for setups, the disparity between the fastest and slowest cars in a Cup field is as great as it’s been in maybe a few decades.

Outrunning the competition might be harder than ever, but outmaneuvering always is an option.

It’s still hard to fault Rodney Childers, though, for being unable to counter the decisions that cost Harvick the victory.

The No. 4 crew chief could have stayed on strategy with the other six drivers by bringing Harvick to the pits, but that would have meant giving away a playoff point. If the pit crew also holds serve, Harvick likely gets a much better restart that could have carried him to a win.

Childers deserves credit for being the first to pit on Lap 20, and his team also rebounded from the loss of its car chief after two inspection failures that lost its pit selection (which probably didn’t help in the accident with Almirola).

There have been several instances over the last five seasons in which pit miscues negated winning opportunities for Harvick, but Pocono largely felt circumstantial.

NASCAR chief operating officer Steve Phelps caused a minor stir before Sunday’s race in taking aim at those reporting team sponsorship declines. Phelps used the oft-cited statistic (though it isn’t exclusive to team sponsors) that 28% of Fortune 500 companies invest in NASCAR (which is up 29 percent since a decade ago, according to NASCAR).

“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” Phelps said in helping announce the rebranding of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing.  It’s because it works.

“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”

That would be a subjective analysis of how sponsorship news has been digested.

How about an objective look at what’s happened with team sponsorships in Cup over the last three years?

Assembled from NASCAR, team releases and news reports, here is a look at some of what has transpired recently.

Sponsors re-signing (beyond 2018): NAPA (through 2020, 26 primary sponsor races annually with Chase Elliott), Shell Pennzoil (through 2022, full season with Joey Logano), FedEx (multiyear, full season with Denny Hamlin), Mountain Dew (through 2020, four primary races annually with Elliott), Fastenal (through 2021, 14 primary races with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. last season), Sunny D (through 2021, five primary races with Stenhouse last season), Fifth Third Bank (through 2021, eight races with Stenhouse last season).

Sponsors arriving: DC Solar (moving into Cup for “double-digit” primary races with Kyle Larson; “handful” with Jamie McMurray); Wyndham Resorts (multiyear, seven primary races this season with Matt Kenseth); John Deere (handful of races with Stenhouse), ITsavvy (multiyear, two primary races with Clint Bowyer this season); World Wide Technology (eight races with Bubba Wallace this season).

Sponsors departing: Target (primary sponsor with Larson in 21 races last season), Lowe’s (36-race primary sponsor this season with Jimmie Johnson), 5-hour Energy (co-primary sponsor with defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. in 30 races this season), GoDaddy (33 primary races with Danica Patrick in 2015), Dollar General (25 primary races with Matt Kenseth in 2016), Farmers Insurance (12 races with Kasey Kahne last season), Great Clips (10 races with Kahne last season), Subway (five primary races with Carl Edwards in 2016), Aaron’s (36 primary races with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2015).

Is chivalry dead in the era of “win and you’re in, so anything goes”?

Justin Allgaier essentially posed the question after Christopher Bell slammed past him for Saturday’s Xfinity Series victory at Iowa Speedway. Allgaier was “salty” about Bell’s pass but also resigned that he would find no sympathy on social media among a fan base that’s been inured to NASCAR as a contact sport.

“It’s cool to watch, and I hope fans got their money’s worth,” Allgaier said in the NBCSN interview above. “But we raced clean all day. I hadn’t touched him all day. It’s just disappointing to get run over like that.”

No one can accuse Bell of doing anything wrong, but Allgaier raises an interesting point: What recourse remains for feeling as if there’s no reward for racing “fairly”?

There are three primary takeaways from Erik Jones’ second-place finish in the Pocono truck race after starting from the rear on about two hours’ notice and no practice:

  • Jones really is that good.
  • Kyle Busch Motorsports’ trucks really are that good.
  • The competition in the truck series … maybe isn’t as good.

The quasi-inversion of the field made for a more intriguing race, but that was the only upside of failing 13 cars in inspection Saturday night after qualifying at Pocono. The starting lineup was finalized nearly four hours after the pole position was “awarded,” and it made the qualifying session seem like a largely empty exercise for those who invested an hour in watching it.

NASCAR can hold teams responsible for the debacle, but culpability isn’t nearly as important as just ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 14th: “We had an up-and-down day today fighting the balance in our No. 16 Chevy. I felt like we had a top-15 car most of the day, but we had to play defense to stay there. I wasn’t able to roll speed through the corner like I needed to be more aggressive and keep moving forward. We made a strategy call to take two tires, which didn’t work in our favor. Then we got caught up on pit road and restarted pretty far back at the beginning of the third stage. We’ll take a 14th- place finish after everything we battled with our car today and move forward to Sonoma.”

Justin Haley — Finished 16th: It was an up-and-down day for this No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team. We fired off tight in traffic, and it was just hard to pass. My crew chief, Trent Owens, made some really good strategy calls and we had positive adjustments all day, despite a couple pit-road mishaps. We had another good Chevrolet hot rod, and we will take a 16th-place finish after a hard fought day.

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Bommarito.com Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: Cup race results at WWT Raceway

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.